Q: Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

Q:  I’m a recent LIS graduate and have been a reference librarian for two years, but I have long been interested in collection development. Prior to that, I worked as an assistant in a special library doing copy cataloging and collection maintenance, and in a university law library, also doing collection maintenance. Unfortunately, due to limited availability of a collection development class in my program, I never took it and only learned in my last quarter before graduation when I asked to have my practicum in collection development that the class was a prerequisite. Thus I was pushed into reference, and while I’m content in my role, I still often wonder about a career in collection development. I have no clue how I might one day make the transition, especially since it’s such a specialized area of work. Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

TA:  Several ideas come to mind when I think about your question of how to get into collection development after a couple of years as a reference librarian.  Here are a few:

  • Seek specialized training through a professional association; attend workshops and professional meetings in the area of collection development.
  • Take a continuing education course in collection development through an ALA-accredited library school.  Or, consider the possibility of a Certificate of Advanced Study (a post-MLS program) and specialize in collection development.
  • Reference librarians know a lot about the collection, so look for ways to build opportunities into your current position.  In many libraries, the lines between reference and collection development are being blurred by the liaison or subject specialist role, where librarians are arranged by subject and not function.  If your current employer doesn’t offer enough opportunity to explore collection development, and you’re willing to dive into the job market, maybe a subject specialist or liaison type position is your bridge to a position that has exclusive responsibility for collection development.
  • Look for a professional mentor who is already a collection development librarian.  And how do you find that kind of mentor?  Well, since you asked…
  • Conduct a few information interviews—Ask others who have the job you want how they got there, what they love about their job, and what they would change.  Be sure to watch your vocabulary when describing your current situation.  What you’ve described above can be heard as a bit negative (I was “pushed” into reference) and perceived as less-than-careful planning in library school (I “only learned in my last quarter before graduation…”).  Focus on the future and your career aspirations.
  • Pursue an additional degree that would support your move into a collection development position.  Many librarians engaged in collection development have an additional degree beyond the MLS that allows them to specialize deeply in a specific subject or discipline.
  • If your current employer offers a sabbatical or research leave, develop a research project around the intersection of reference and collection development.  At the end you’ll know more about your areas of interest and have a deliverable that you can share with others.

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